By Lewis Gould
When the Eagles host the New York Giants Sunday night at the Linc, the game will be more than a renewal of one of the bitterest rivalries in NFL history.
It will also be a tale of two cities and two disparate teams.
The Eagles entered 2014 as the favorites to win the NFC East thanks to Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense guided by an emerging Nick Foles.
The Giants’ offense was considered a work in progress with quarterback Eli Manning adjusting to a new offensive coordinator.
Through five games, New York’s offense is clearly on the upswing while Philly’s is still looking to get untracked.
The visiting Giants have totaled 105 points while winning three straight and have done a good job of slowing down opposing quarterbacks ahead of Sunday night’s key divisional matchup.
The East looks very competitive this year. Philly (4-1) is tied with Dallas for first place and New York (3-2) is one game back.
“This is a divisional game,” New York coach Tom Coughlin said. “Obviously Philadelphia is playing very, very well. It is a game within the division for us, so we are just excited for that opportunity.”
Philly went 10-6 and won the East in 2013 in Kelly’s first season. Foles was the catalyst with 27 touchdowns, only two interceptions and a league-best 119.2 passer rating.
Foles ranks just 23rd this year at 82.5. He has a 53.3 rating on passes of at least 21 yards in the air, getting picked off a league-high four times on 31 attempts – also tops in the NFL.
“We can’t be afraid of throwing the deep ball,” said Foles, who had one interception on 43 such passes in 2013. “I’m not afraid of throwing the deep ball. I’ve always liked throwing the deep ball.”
It hasn’t helped that LeSean McCoy is off to a slow start. McCoy led the league with 1,607 rushing yards in 2013 but is only 15th this year with 273.
“He’s dynamic, he’s looking for the big play every time he touches the ball, whether it is a screen or a run so he’s the player I’ve always known him to be and he’s outstanding,” Coughlin said.
Darren Sproles, however, has 172 rushing yards and is averaging 6.9 per carry to help pick up the slack.
Manning was picked off a career-worst 27 times last year, resulting in Ben McAdoo replacing longtime offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride. The two-time Super Bowl MVP struggled with a passer rating of 69.2 in consecutive losses to start 2014.
He has completed 70.1 percent of his passes and posted a 115.2 rating during this win streak, throwing eight touchdown passes to one interception. Five different Giants have at least 10 receptions, with tight end Larry Donnell leading the way with 25 and four touchdowns.
“They seem like they’ve picked it up over the last couple of weeks but it’s very different than what they’ve done before,” Kelly said.
The offense figures to be more lethal now with dynamic rookie Odell Beckham Jr., who had four catches for 44 yards and a TD in last Sunday’s 30-20 win over Atlanta in his debut after being out with a hamstring injury.
One issue from that game was a sprained MCL suffered by Rashad Jennings, fourth in the NFL with 396 rushing yards. It seems unlikely he will play.
Jennings’ absence would give the starting job to rookie fourth-round pick Andre Williams, who has 131 yards and two TDs over the last two games.
“He’s a big, physical runner,” Kelly said. “I think it’s evident, you just watch him in the preseason or watch him when he’s at Boston College. He ran for over 2,000 yards last year at BC.”
Kelly will try to revive his passing attack against a Giants defense that has a league-high eight interceptions. New York is also limiting opposing quarterbacks to a 76.0 rating for the NFL’s third-best mark.
“It looks like (Giants defensive end Jason) Pierre-Paul is a little bit more healthy than he was last year,” Kelly said. “They’ve added a couple guys in the secondary a little bit. But it seems like they were banged up a lot of last year, guys in and out of the lineup.”
New York’s defense has a familiar face in cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who will return to Philly for the first time since he spent 2011-12 with the Eagles. Rodgers-Cromartie has been nursing a leg injury.
The Eagles have been winning thanks in part to an astounding seven touchdowns from their defense and special teams. No other team has more than two.
“They’ve won games on special teams,” Coughlin said. “You look at the San Francisco game, it’s amazing, punt return, blocked punt, interception return.”
The Eagles are hopeful that DeMeco Ryans will be available after he injured his right groin in last Sunday’s 34-28 win over St. Louis. Fellow linebacker Mychal Kendricks is uncertain with a calf injury.
These teams have split the season series the three previous years, with the Giants winning twice on the road.